|Horse Logging at a Crossroads|
by Rob Borsato
Horse logging is many different things to many different people. For
those who use draft animals in their day-to-day logging work, it can be a
meaningful and rewarding career. For landowners with timber on their land and
for professionals managing forest lands, it is a harvesting system that can
extract timber carefully. For people in the environmental camp, horse logging is
often seen as the best way to get some wood out while still keeping forests
intact. If you're a regional planner, or have concerns about the well being of
your rural community, horse logging is a basic way to provide economic
development and an opportunity for young people to find work close to home. For
draft animal enthusiasts, horse logging is another reason to maintain the
breeding, raising, and training of these beautiful animals; for others, it is an
important symbol of our rich rural heritage.
With all these positive things associated with horse logging, you
might find it incongruous when I tell you I think horse logging is at a critical
crossroads as we break into the new millennium. I say this after reviewing two
studies done on horse logging communities over the last few years. To my
knowledge, these are the only studies that have been conducted with regional
groups of horse loggers in North America.
The first study, done in 1998 through the School of Forestry at Auburn
University, looked at 33 of about 50 horse loggers in northern Alabama. The
second glimpse at horse loggers took place last winter in British Columbia,
Canada, where I live. That study involved 22 of approximately 80 horse loggers.
Despite 3,000 miles separating the communitieswith their
different timber types, different log markets, dramatically different land
ownership arrangements, different histories, and different culturesthe
horse loggers in both communities share many commonalities. Some highlights:
||Both have relatively small crewstwo to three people;|
||The average age is "up there"48 in BC; 55 in Alabama;|
||Few young people are entering the trade;|
||The average experience level is relatively high13 years in BC; 20 in
||Modest capital investment in both jurisdictionsusually including a
truck, horse trailer, saws, rigging, and horses (in Alabama most own their own
3-axle side-load log trucks, while in BC half own some kind of machine to
forward, deck, load and/or haul logs);|
||Neither have any formal horse logging trainingin Alabama most learned
from fathers or others who passed it on, in BC most are self taught;|
||Both face concerns regarding rising expectations to adapt to changes in
Right away some of these points set off red flags for me. One has to do with
the average age of the loggers, and another with the fact that few young people
are attracted to the craft. The third involves how horse loggers learned the
trade in the first place. When I put these all together I realized something was
seriously wrong with this picture. When I inserted my personal scenario into the
equation, I began to see just what was wrong. You see, I'm one of those loggers
who for the last 20 years has been self-taught, and I know all too well how
painfully slow and frustrating (not to mention dangerous) that can be. I also
know how precious is any little bit of helpful advice I can glean from anyone.
Just to complete this picture, I'm one of those loggers in the "up there"
Now it may not be complimentary to consider yourself "average,"
but here I am, pretty much your typical average horse logger. As such, I'll be
considering retiring within the next decade, but without knowing that young
people will be ready to take my place, and with a lot of hard-earned experience
and knowledge left unshared. I'm not boasting, here, but wanting to emphasize
the knowledge, expertise, and training required (and often overlooked or taken
for granted) to be a successful horse logger, an occupation that looks far
easier than it really is. Within one generation we could lose most of this
technology. The missing link is that young people are not entering the trade.
How can we reverse this trend?
The answer is quite simple. We horse loggers need to boost our
profile. We need to increase it with the general public, with professional
foresters (who will be making more and more of the management decisions, but
know nothing about what we can do), and most important we need to focus our
attention on the youth. Through the public school system we can effectively
reach many young people. Probably initial contacts should be made in the preteen
years, with more thorough follow-ups in high school. These contacts may be a
combination of going into the classroom equipped with a horse logging video or a
similar teaching aid, and students coming into the forests to watch us work.
Most horse loggers probably don't consider themselves teachers, but the positive
and professional image we convey when we are working speaks volumes to young
people. They just need to see it.
We can do many other things to better promote ourselves. Some are
simple, inexpensive, everyday things, such as good signage on our horse trailers
or at the roadside where we currently work, telling passersby who we are. Other
methods of promotion are more involved and may mean pulling together with other
horse loggers to pool our resources and collectively tackle big projects, such
as producing a broadcast-quality promotional video or putting on an introductory
horse logger training course. Getting horse loggers to work collectively is
probably more challenging than trying to herd cats, because we all tend to be so
terribly independent, but it may be an important way to reverse the trend
revealed by the studies in Alabama and British Columbia. Whatever it takes, we
need to tell people, especially our young people, who we are and what we can do,
and help them learn to do it, too.
Borsato of Quesnel, British Columbia, has been a professional horse logger
for 20 years, chairs the Horse Loggers Association of British Columbia, and is
president of the Cariboo Horse Loggers Association. This article appeared in the
2001 issue of